While the developing world is racing consumerism, a few economists and activists of sustainable lifestyle have been shouting from the rooftops to slow down using Earth’s resources. They have now stopped shouting and started practising it, making a considerably modest impact on those around them.
One such example has surfaced from Nakre Village in Udupi district, Karnataka. Propelled by Shreekumar S, a chemical engineer from the Karnataka Regional Engineering College (now NITK) with a PhD from the prestigious Indian Institute of Science Bengaluru, the ‘Sangatya Commune’ of Nakre village is experimenting on creating spaces for sustainable living.
Shreekumar, now 56, had earlier worked with ONGC and later took up a career in teaching. “When I was at IISc, I became part of a students’ group which worked for communal harmony after the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992. Later, I was concerned with issues of development as well. I also spent about three months with the Narmada Bachao Andolan which gave me first hand exposure to the costs borne by others for the comforts we enjoy. I felt that all engineering students must be aware of this but there was very little space for discussing them in engineering colleges. My attempts to discuss these issues informally with students was going in vain,” he said.
After teaching for four years at NITK, he went to be part of Sampoorna Kranti Vidyalaya, Vedchhi, Gujarat, started by Narayan Desai for preparing people for activism. “It was there that I had my first experience of community living and sharing work and responsibilities without class distinctions. Opposing industries which are bad for the environment is necessary, but as long as we are dependent on those industries for our daily bread, we change nothing even if we meet with isolated cases of success. It is necessary to build a society that is sustainable. Talking about it lacks legitimacy when we do not engage in such constructive work,” he said.
Sangatya is part of a group called Alliance for Sustainability and Equity. It consists of three other organic farms, older than the one started by Shreekumar that are part of this alliance along with many individuals. Explaining the concept, Roshan a post graduate in Psychology, who had previous experience of sustainable living at Seva Gram in Wardha and is a self-trained ornithologist said, “I am living here in Sangatya for the last 18 months, amidst nature. I have also learnt many things about wildlife”. Pointing at a chart depicting 85 birds that visit the farm, Roshan explained the characteristics of every bird. Roshan drew the chart with his own hands and also documented it.
Shreekumar says, “Ours is a non-hierarchical community. All of us share responsibilities. Farm work usually takes about six hours a day, sometimes the entire day. We do most of it when the sun is not too hot. Division of labour is not based on privileges. Work that doesn’t require any special skills is shared by all. We have a small house. It can easily accommodate 7-8 people but on occasions many more – even as many as 28 – have stayed in it” he says. On his vision for Sangatya, Shreekumar says, “It should also be a place where people can come to learn and gain hands-on experience in anything we do here including community-building.”